It’s All-Star time, folks! With just over half the season in the books, players will get a well-deserved break from the grind while the league’s elite head to New Orleans. It’s sure to be a weekend full of dunks, laughs, and maybe even some Big Easy-rated entertainment I can’t delve into in this space.
But why should Damian Lillard get to have all the fun?1 It’s my All-Star Weekend too, and if I can’t be out there on Bourbon Street all debonair, you better believe I’m going to party it up in my own way. So how does a mega-nerd get wild and crazy, you ask? Duh, an advanced metrics shindig!
What follows are several of my favorite notable Jazz-related statistics or metrics through this point in the season. Are these all statistically relevant? Yes. Are these all vital elements to a winning Jazz team? I’m not making any promises. Does a normal human being care deeply about any of the things you’re about to read? Absolutely not. Let’s have a little fun.
Gordon Hayward, Distributor Extraordinaire:
Whatever issues some might have with the young swingman’s efficiency and overall game this season, one thing is for sure: he’s not coming up short as a playmaker. Hayward is averaging exactly five assists a night on the year, but the raw numbers don’t tell the whole story. When we enlist some help from NBA.com’s SportVU tracking data, he enters elite company in a couple areas. Particularly, of 283 players appearing in 25 or more games and playing 15 or more minutes a night2, Hayward is among the league’s best in both Secondary Assists and Assist Opportunities per game. Secondary Assists, or “hockey assists”, are the passes right before an assist, and oftentimes the one that really opens up the defense on the play; Hayward ties for 22nd league-wide with 1.3 of these per game, the highest rate for any non-point-guard besides LeBron James. Assist Opportunities are defined as any pass leading to a shot which, if made, would then constitute an assist for the passer – Hayward is 25th in the NBA per game for these as well, and once again LeBron is his only peer among the elite here who isn’t a point guard.3 He may not be doing everything we all want at the very highest level possible, but Hayward is certainly showing off his versatile game with numbers like these.
We Must Protect This Rim!:
If I had asked you at the start of the year who the two best rim protectors in Utah were, the answer would have been pretty simple: Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, right? Wrong. Well…sort of, at least. Gobert is indeed excelling as expected, allowing opponents only 42.7% shooting around the rim4 – but he plays only 12.2 minutes a night, meaning he doesn’t technically qualify. Still, he’s worth mentioning. But beyond the Frenchman, the results are pretty darn surprising. Diante Garrett, Trey Burke, Marvin Williams, Jeremy Evans, and Gordon Hayward all allow lower percentages at the rim than Favors has so far. Granted, three of those five are wings who see a very small number of attempts, but Williams and Evans are not – both see over 3.5 rim attempts per game, a rough threshold that contains 99 names league-wide seeing at least nominal volume in this area. Williams is particularly encouraging, ranking 30th of those 99 and allowing just 48.4%, two spots ahead of Tim Duncan and just a few spots behind Dwight Howard. Get that garbage outta here, Norris Cole!
Finding positive areas where the Jazz rank in the top half of the league as a team isn’t the easiest task, so it’s a lucky thing I go so hard when I stat party. So while it’s something of an arbitrary metric (and definitely a small sample size), the Jazz have actually been one of the league’s best in crunch-time situations this season. When leading or trailing by three or less points with three or less minutes remaining in regulation or overtime, the Jazz are eighth in the NBA for Net Rating per-100-possessions, per NBA.com. They sport the third-highest true-shooting percentage during these periods, and even more surprisingly, the fastest pace in the entire league at over 110 possessions per-48-minutes – this from a team that ranks 27th in the league for pace during normal minutes at not even 94 possessions per-48. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that they also lead the league in turnover ratio in these scenarios – the Jazz are all over the place in crunch time compared with their normal game, but it’s actually been working out for them.5 We wouldn’t want to jump to conclusions, but this should bode well for the team in future years when these minutes become more vital in a playoff chase.
Coach Corbin has given 97 different five-man units at least five minutes of floor time so far this season, and 23 different units have seen at least 20 minutes together. Of those 23, only eight show a positive Net Rating per-100-possessions. Luckily, one of these eight is the current starting lineup, a unit that’s logged nearly four times as many minutes as any other single combination. Interestingly, though, if you take Trey Burke out of the starting lineup and replace him with Diante Garrett, you get the individual Jazz lineup with the highest Net Rating (again, of lineups playing 20 minutes or more together this year) of +34.2 points-per-100. The Garrett unit has only played 43 minutes together all year, but this lends some credence to the idea that perhaps Marvin Williams, not Burke, was in fact the largest spark plug to the starting roster when both became a part of it at the same time earlier this year. In any case, given their results on the court so far this year, it’s no surprise that five-man units which have outscored their opponents for the year are few and far between in Utah.
With apologies to many other great data tracking sites, SportVU data on NBA.com is just way too much fun. To close this stats party, a rapid fire of SportVU numbers that relate to the Jazz:
Well, hopefully I didn’t go too hard for anyone’s particular taste; you might as well call me the Damian Lillard of stat parties. Enjoy the All-Star festivities, everyone!